Steel Division: Normandy 44 review - World War II with a Polish twist
Eugen Systems studio found out in 2015 thanks to the Act of Aggression that making classic RTSs is not a very good idea. The game that was supposed to be a return to the golden days of building bases and gathering resources turned out to be average and flopped. The French studio found out then that referring to nostalgia for the 90s is a bad idea and it is better to focus on a slightly more innovative approach.
Steel Division: Normandy 44 is exactly that: a real-time tactical game based on Eugen's greatest success - the Wargame series, which sold over one million copies in 2014. The developers of Steel Division took what was proven, but without cutting off the coupons - they added completely new elements that gave the game its own character.
Divisions - collect them all!
Landing in Normandy is a well-worn topic, but the Steel Division offers a more detailed view of this event than most popular games, mainly thanks to the title divisions and detailed mapping of the area of operations .
The game allows you to create a combat group for online battles, which is part of one of the 18 available divisions. So we choose infantry and vehicles in such a combination to obtain the most effective combat formation, tailored to our style of play. If you prefer powerful tanks, your choice will probably fall on the German Panzer Lehr division, equipped with a large number of machines called tigers. In turn, fans of the series Band of Brothers can decide on the "screaming eagles", i.e. the 101st Airborne Division. Polish players will probably try to fight the 1st Armored Division of General Stanisław Maczek right away .
Creating your own deck of units and learning about historical equipment is a lot of fun for any lover of WWII history. When completing our group, for the first time we come across the information that each battle is divided into phases A, B and C and that not all units can be summoned at once. In addition to the frontline mechanics, this is one of the most interesting novelties served by Eugen. Here's how it looks in practice:
Each phase simulates the escalation of the battle. At the beginning, we can throw a lot of reconnaissance units, some infantry and a few armored vehicles into action. After a few minutes, we go to phase B, in which we already get solid aviation, tanks and artillery. The most powerful toys appear in phase C. However, it must be remembered that individual divisions differ in point income, which allows you to buy units, in individual phases - for example, Panzer Lehr gets only 75 points per minute in phase A, and Polish 1st Panzer as much as 90 which has an impact on the initial tactics in the clash of such different formations .
Division into phases may not completely solve the problem of sending a large group of cheap troops to one place ( Wargame spam for short). On the other hand, it reduces the scale and effectiveness of such plays and certainly creates some room for less obvious units - ones that normally would not be taken into battle, having strong tanks at their disposal.
My little tank in the front line
The dominant gameplay mode in Steel Division is Conquest, which takes the destruction out of the shadow (the one who kills the most expensive units wins). However, this is not a conquest known from Wargame , where the player occupied sectors designated by the developers to score points. Now the main star is the front line, which must be moved towards the enemy. I really like this mechanic - players finally have a free hand in deciding which places on the map are really important, and seeing a successful breakthrough is really satisfying. Fortunately, some units, such as scouts, do not move the front lines, so small raids or ambushes behind enemy lines are still possible.
The most unpleasant situation is when the enemy is occupying several houses, giving him a decisive 1% of the map control after we managed to achieve local successes. This problem, however, is mainly due to the fact that sometimes (not) cooperation with teammates in larger battles - that's the charms of online gameplay. On the other hand, if we play as a team, we can implement really bold plans. The best moments in the game are when you circle your opponent together, eliminate his command units, create a cauldron, and then take the broken troops captive.
Morale plays a significant role during fights - soldiers who have been crushed by enemy fire and do not have a command unit nearby may capitulate. As a result, using artillery together with eliminating officers can be more effective than killing the opponent to the foot. The morale system is predictable, even simple (bearing in mind the classics like Close Combat ). However, it should be remembered that the Steel Division does not focus on realism in many matters - the balance of online gameplay and the right pace of clashes are in the foreground .
The aforementioned commanders turn out to be extremely important - not only do they stop the local troops from displaying a white flag, but they also give nearby companions a bonus to experience. This is extremely important, because a tank with 3 experience stars rarely misses, unlike its less seasoned counterpart . The game therefore promotes the formation of appropriately selected, experienced combat groups under the influence of officers.
Balancing the War
The fight itself in Steel Division skillfully balances between the RTS and the hardcore wargame, which has already become the hallmark of Eugen Systems. The only bar is the morale bar, not the health bar. The tank, on the other hand, consists of the value of the cannon strength and armor per side - an accurate hit from the 17-pound anti-tank gun. to the side of the panther is a chapel for armored people. The strength of the guns also increases with the reduction of the distance to the target, so driving a tank up to enemy cannons without air support, artillery or smoke screen is asking for participation in roulette under the title "will my front armor still hold". Vehicles, like in Wargame , drive very fast on the road, but slowly off-road. This makes the intersections of great tactical importance.
Reconnaissance is the basis of any action, without it our troops are blind. Due to the fact that we are fighting in Normandy, where we find a hedge every few meters, Eugen gave us the so-called "Line of sight tool", a tool that allows you to see what field of view the unit at the cursor position may have - it makes orientation and carrying out ambushes a lot easier. His only imperfection? Can't cope with uneven terrain ...
Infantry plays a third-rate role in the Steel Division . Sure, it works well in cities, forests, and ambushes, but with such massive battles, it's a little bit in the shade. In my opinion, the combination of the reality of Normandy and the large scale of the game does not quite do it justice - without socket grenades, and sometimes with smoke, the infantry is too sensitive when moving .
Matchmaking versus the lobby
A quite unusual problem in Steel Division is Eugen Systems' approach to matchmaking and sticking to the system of setting up your own room for online play. The lobby allows you to set a map, invite friends, indicate the side of the conflict - on paper it suggests freedom of choice. In practice, it often ends up with four experienced players massacring random victims driving into the game.
This problem already existed in the Wargame franchise - now Eugen is trying to do something about it by introducing Quickplay alongside the intimidating casual players in ranked games. Quick Play is a good idea - despite the lack of map selection, it largely offers the chance to meet an opponent with a similar level of skill and organization. Problem? Humans, having the option to set up a game room, give in to the habits of the Wargame series and ignore "quick gameplay". The result is long waiting times, community fragmentation, lags, and a brutal reality encounter for new players.